SI: If the commissioner's office asked for advice regarding media coverage of the steroids controversy, what would you tell them?
Fleischer: I think major league baseball missed an opportunity to be more aggressive and visible in the fight against steroids. It was a tough summer and fall. But it's amazing what baseball can come back from. The American people love sports so much that they are willing to forgive a lot. But if Roger Maris had a small asterisk next to his 61, just imagine the size of Barry Bonds's asterisk when he breaks [Hank Aaron's career home run] record.
SI: How often did you get a chance to watch games with the President?
Fleischer: We'd watch on Air Force One. After Sept. 11 they had to bring in all this additional communications equipment, so we got DirecTV with the MLB package. Of course he liked to watch the Rangers. I liked to watch the Yankees. So we always watched the Rangers [laughs].
SI: Did sports relax him?
Fleischer: He needs to run for his mental and physical well-being. He told me that after Sept. 11 his mile times really picked up because he was so intense and focused.
SI: Have you been able to collect good memorabilia?
Fleischer: I have a signed bat from Cal Ripken Jr. that says, "Ari, this bat seemed to work against everybody except the Yankees. Those damn Yankees."
SI: Red Sox ace Curt Schilling is a huge George Bush supporter. Could you ever bring yourself to root for Schilling?
Fleischer: Curt Schilling has great taste in politics, but bad taste in baseball.
SI: How would you have put a positive spin on the Yankees' signings of Hideki Irabu and Jose Contreras?
Fleischer: Some things can't be spun. --Richard Deitsch
RON SACHS/CNP/CORBIS (FLEISCHER);
MARK WILSON/NEWSMAKERS/GETTY IMAGES (FLEISCHER WITH BAT);